Third grade students at Tramway Elementary school in Sanford find themselves in the middle of a growing controversy to determine whether school officials crossed a line when they asked students to write letters to lawmakers in support of more funding for public education.
The latest chapter in the month-long story was added this week when Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee) received a letter from his 8-year old daughter, a third grader at Tramway Elementary. In the letter she asked her dad not to eliminate teacher assistants or make other budget cuts. She closed the letter by saying, “Please put the budget higher, dad.”
According to local press reports, Rep. Stone was greatly upset by the letter. He said, “As I read through this (letter), anger completely shot through me, and I was trying to hold myself together,” he said. “(It’s unconscionable) to know any education system would use a daughter against her father.”
Stone told Carolina Journal, “I don’t care if you like the budget or not, I have not talked to one person who condones using an 8-year old, and especially a legislator’s 8 year-old daughter.”
Lee County School Superintendent Jeff Moss has refused to discuss the issue on camera and seems surprised by all the attention. He told a Raleigh reporter he doesn’t see a problem with a writing exercise involving students supporting public education.
Moss also said that students in other schools were also writing letters to lawmakers and Gov. Beverly Perdue.
In May, the Civitas Institute blogged that it had received a copy of a three page letter from Anne Beal, principal of Tramway Elementary School. In the letter, Beal outlined a school plan to “let our voices be heard” regarding the state budget process.
The letter describes how Beale wants faculty and staff to be present at various public meetings – many of which begin at 3 PM. The letter also details how Beale wants teachers to find students and parents to speak at meetings, to “write letters to the editors of the Sanford Herald” and “to continue to email your elected officials.”
The ongoing story of how teachers and staff have enlisted students in the state budget battle has angered parents throughout North Carolina. The story has been picked up not only by North Carolina media outlets, but also the Drudge Report which linked to an earlier story in Carolina Journal.
On June 7 North Carolina Director of Americans for Prosperity Dallas Woodhouse called for the Lee County Board of Education to fire Moss.
Woodhouse said, “A school system should not be run by an authoritarian and arrogant administrator that has clearly shown that using teachers and students as pawns is an acceptable practice. It is the responsibility of the Lee County School Board to make sure that this conduct ends now. The board should request Moss’ resignation, and if it is not forthcoming, he should be terminated for cause.”
Moss has refused public comment on the issue. As of this writing, a request from the Civitas Institute for public comment has not been returned.
Moss’s comment to Mike Stone that “if he’s not interested in receiving letters from people in your district, don’t run for public office” has only added to the outrage of many local parents who feel his stance in refusing public comment is hypocritical.
Unfortunately, controversy at Tramway Elementary isn’t Jeff Moss’ first brush with controversy. The Beaufort Observer Online Edition has reported that Moss, a former superintendent in Beaufort County, went to court and sued the county commissioners over the school budget and lost.